One of the things that intrigued me a lot when I moved to Indonesia last year, were the dirty footmarks that I often encountered on the loo seats in public toilets. As a new arrival, I was still very ignorant about Indonesian customs but what I did know was that toilet paper is not always to be found so my first thoughts regarding this were that women, having done the necessary had then on discovering that there was no toilet paper in their cubicle, been forced to climb up onto the toilet seat in order to peer over into the cubicle next door to see if there was any in there.
It didn’t dawn on me until a few months later that the dirty footprints were in fact from ladies getting up onto the toilet to pee. I was both amused and amazed at this discovery. To my western mind, I couldn’t understand how anyone would want to climb onto a toilet when you can comfortably sit on it? Surely sitting on a toilet is a damn sight easier than having to clamber up onto the seat and perch perilously aloft the bowl?
As I learnt more about cultural differences, I soon discovered the reason why. Most domestic toilets (and most toilets in S.E Asia) are squat and drop affairs. The sitting down type toilets of which we are familiar in the west are relatively new here. I’m not sure how new they are, but they are certainly new enough that they seem to be causing some teething problems with a few of the ladies. I have great sympathy with them as I am having a struggle myself in getting to grips with things from the other way round so to speak.
As a rule of thumb (or bum in this instance) always carry tissue with you as toilet paper is rarer than hen’s teeth, and needless to say I forget to bring it more often than I remember too. Most Indonesians are scrupulously clean and like to wash after they’ve been to the toilet. In the case of a sitting down toilet, a good clean up should (I chose my word carefully here) be achievable by using the high- pressure hose that is situated on the wall to the right of the toilet (as yet I’ve got to find out how you’re meant to dry yourself after) After nine months now of religiously practicing my hosing technique at home, I’m still as inept with this device as ever, and invariably some sort of drama always ensues. Depending on which orifice I’m trying to aim it at, I either painfully rearrange my internal organs or worse, give myself a DIY colonic irrigation – this wholly unsatisfactory experience then ends with me spraying water all over the bathroom, myself, and quite frequently my hair whilst I try to turn the f’ing thing off. This doesn’t matter at home because I can clean it up, but it’s a bit embarrassing when out at a business dinner or when entertaining important foreign dignitaries. I often arrive back at the dinner table looking like I’ve been through a car wash and then have to hope that none of the guests then notice the team of cleaners carrying buckets and mops, heading swiftly towards the Ladies.
Last weekend, the Irishman and I, along with our good friend Mikey, visited Pulau Tidung, which is one of the small islands in the Thousand Island group, 2 hours boat ride north of Jakarta. We found a very lovely place to stay just a short walk from the harbour. As you can see from the pictures the amenities were simple but the rooms were very clean. The bathroom, the exact one shown in the picture below, was very traditional with a basic squat toilet, no high pressure hose, no basin but something that could be confused for a raised bath, but is in fact called a bak mandi. The bak mandi contains the water necessary for washing, sluicing waste down the toilet and for washing with, but definitely not in which is a shame because it looks very inviting. You take the water out of the bak mandi with a gayung, the plastic jug or ladle.
All was going fantastically well until the next morning when I needed to do something more than just a wee. I left Irishman and Mikey drinking coffee outside our home stay and slipped off to the bathroom to perform my ablutions. After stripping off, and then placing my feet on the paddles either side of the toilet bowl, I then crouched down and prayed that I wouldn’t have to hang around for long. Squatting to pee is one thing, squatting to crap is another and there’s always the added risk of hysterical retention in my case. As I waited patiently for things to start to happen, I realized that it had been some time since I’d done any ‘target practice’ so you’ll understand how thrilled I was when, after the event, but still in squatting position, I peered down and couldn’t see anything. WOO HOO! I thought to myself, A hole in one! Magnifico! I stood up and started to fill the gayung with water to flush the toilet with and then wash myself. As I turned round with the water jug, imagine then if you will, my absolute horror when I saw what had actually happened. Instead of a ‘Hole in One’ there, neatly stacked on the ledge between the bowl and wall was my poo. Holy Crapola. All I can say is Thank God for kitchen paper and Thank God for Irishman for remembering to bring it.
After a lengthy cleaning up session using almost an entire roll of paper, plus my precious Aussie Miracle shampoo to help obliterate any trace or odour of the unfortunate events, I went back outside to regale the boys with what had happened. After much serious thought, punctuated by howls of laughter, the Irishman and Mikey came up with what they think may be a handy solution to my problem and anyone else whose aim is to put it bluntly, crap – ‘The Stool-Master’. According to them, this natty, portable, and easy-to-fold device, can be taken anywhere. Place the stool (with their unique patent-pending designed hole in the middle) over the squat toilet and they guarantee (or your money back) there will never be another mishap. I’ll let you know how I get on.